Can Television Change Anti-Fat Attitudes and Behavior?1


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    The authors thank Geoffrey Cohen, Jerome Singer, and Teresa Treat for their extensive and helpful feedback regarding this project. Thanks are also extended to Bethany Teachman, Wil Cunningham, and the members of the eating disorders lab group at Yale University for feedback at various stages of the research. The project was funded by a dissertation study grant from the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues awarded to the first author, as well as by a grant awarded to Kelly Brownell by the Rudd Foundation for obesity research.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Marlene Schwartz, Department of Psychology, Yale University, P.O. Box 208205, New Haven, CT 06520. E-mail:


This work investigated negative attitudes toward overweight people and whether anti-fat attitudes and behavior could be reduced by media-based empathy and classical conditioning interventions. Participants were first primed by an empathy-evoking video of obese persons or a non-weight-related control video. Next, they viewed either a video portraying obese persons positively (e.g., as competent) or negatively (e.g., as clumsy). Participants completed outcome measures of implicit and explicit weight-related attitudes and participated in a covert behavioral task (competence ratings of thin and overweight job applicants). Results confirm strong implicit and explicit anti-fat bias across conditions, yet participants rated overweight job applicants more highly in most domains while disfavoring overweight candidates on a personal level. Overall, bias persisted despite video interventions, although surprisingly the negative (stereotypic) video was associated with somewhat reduced bias. Relationships among implicit bias, explicit bias, individual-difference variables, and awareness of obesity as a social problem are explored and discussed.